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A Terrible Kindness

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Member Reviews

This was a very moving and emotional read about William Lavery and how he is affected by, and how he deals with the traumas and tragedy that he suffers. Losing his father has a profound affect on him and deeply affects his relationship with his mother. He trains as an embalmer and is brought to Aberfan to help with the embalming after the disaster that takes so many lives. It’s interesting to read how such a disaster might affect people who were only there momentarily. This is a well researched and fascinating story. I found the various elements of the story a bit distracting but enjoyed it. Thank you to Jo Browning Wroe, NetGalley and Faber & Faber for an arc in exchange for an honest review.
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A Terrible Kindness -Book Review
🎼Love,Loss and facing your fears!!🎼

A Terrible Kindness is a standalone novel by Jo Browning Wroe.The story focuses on the life of Embalmer William Lavery and how facing the terrible tragedy of the Aberfan disaster eventually helps him tackle past traumatic events he has buried for years.

I really liked in the character of William,the way his life was written felt so real and you really felt you were going on a journey with him and facing his past with him.
I also really liked cheeky chappy Martin and how with his schemes he brought some light relief to the story.
My favourite part of book were the flashback chapters about William’s life as a chorister as they gave you an insight into why William grew up to the confused and frightened young man he was.
I thought the whole book was written extremely well and tackled a host of difficult themes entwined into the one story.
This book was definitely an emotional rollercoaster,but one you wanted to see through to the end as you were rooting for William all the way through.
I would throughly recommend this book to anyone who likes emotive or historical fiction,and I will definitely read more books by this author
Bookworm rating 🎼🎼🎼🎼
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Heartbreaking, beautiful, harrowing, painful - this gorgeously written and richly layered book follows William, a young man who has just qualified as an embalmer, who is one of the many called upon to help when the Aberfan disaster leaves an entire school buried under a landslide in a Welsh mining village. Through the course of a devastating night, the bodies of the killed children are brought to the embalmers, who carefully prepare them to be identified by their distraught parents. The trauma of the event stays with William long afterwards, shaping his life. 

The book also reaches back into his childhood, tracing his damaged relationship with his mother, his lost school friends, his abandoned dream of becoming a chorister. Ultimately, it's a book about self-examination and compassion, and, as devastating as it is, I couldn't recommend it more.
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The opening chapters dealing with the Aberfan disaster are absolutely gut wrenching (I blinked back tears several times), but so gripping you can't look away. My attention immediately began to wane when we moved on to the next section and began the meandering journey back and forth through the life of William, a character who isn't all that pleasant to spend time with. Like many other reviewers I expected much more of the book to deal with Aberfan and I don't think the book does it justice, however well written the chapters devoted to it are. (I do think we were all slightly misled by the blurb in that respect though so I'm trying not to let it affect my overall rating too much!)
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A Terrible Kindness starts off with the Aberfan disaster and we follow William, as an embalmer choosing to go and help out on the ground. This acts as a flashpoint and it catapults the reader into the life of William, both as he was younger and the journey of him growing up but also how events shaped him as a person. 

It was a very interesting book to read and I definitely enjoyed it. I would have liked the book to have been more focused on the initial part of the story where we followed WIliam as an embalmer and his point of view of a disaster, as I did find this part of the story the most compelling and interesting. As a person who isn’t from the UK, I would have liked to know more about the disaster itself, with more focus on that part of the story. However, I do understand that that wasn’t the book that the author wanted to write.  

Thank you to Netgalley and Faber & Faber for sending me an advanced copy
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I was really excited to get the opportunity to read and review ~ATerribleKindess via @NetGalley as the book description sounded so different and thought provoking. I was not disappointed. 
This is a book that tells the story of an ordinary man who was involved in an extraordinary event, which had an impact on him for decades afterwards. The bulk of the story is not about Aberfan, but about William and his childhood, and how he ended up working as an undertaker/embalmer. It is beautifully written, extraordinarily moving and insightful, with it's focus on family, friendships and loss. I am really glad I read it and will be recommending it to friends to read and book clubs.
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A Terrible Kindness Jo Browning Wroe
What an amazing debut! This book was so wonderfully and compassionately written that I did have to check that it was her first book! There were so many difficult issues and life experiences that the different characters went through, and the author wrote this all so considerately and empathically that at times I had to remind myself that this was a book.
The start of the book left me in tears as the story of William Lavery, a 19-year-old newly qualified embalmer volunteered to help at the Aberfan disaster, and the effect that this then had on him. That this one act of kindness was the catalyst for his world as he knew it, or thought he knew it, to completely change.
The narrative switches almost seamlessly between the different parts of William’s life and builds the back story and helps us to understand William and how his upbringing by a controlling mother and with his ‘Uncles’ and their special relationship, which didn’t conform to 1960’s attitudes towards sexuality had affected him, the decisions he had to make and the outcome from all of this.
I highly recommend this book, as I mentioned above it is so brilliantly written, with fantastic setting descriptions, but is has also been so very well researched from embalming techniques, medical terminology, choral works, choirs and family life amid the 1950's and the 1960's and with this amount of detail this all adds to the overall feel of the book. This book deals with so many different topics, kindness, sexuality, friendships and relationships. Yes, at times it was hard to read, and I did find myself reaching for the tissues on more than one occasion, but I think that is what makes this book so very special, is that it hasn’t shied away from the difficult subjects, instead it has faced them head on and made us all realise that life isn’t always an easy ride.
I was lucky enough to receive an early proof of this book from @tandemcollectiveuk and @faberbooks and I felt truly privileged to be an early reader. Thanks also to Netgalley for an e-copy too.

This is published on the 20th January, and if you haven’t already, go and pre-order it now!
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The book opens with William at an evening event for embalmers with the beautiful Gloria. Not many books deal with the lives of embalmers/ undertakers so this was original in itself.
An emergency call comes through for embalmers to go to help at the scene of the tragic Aberfan disaster. 
Coming from Wales as I do,  this is sadly part of the national consciousness and the author doesn't shy away from the horror of it. 

The book then moves back and forward in time (not in a way that you lose track) to detail another event that was also traumatic for William and which marked him irrevocably. .Martin had a close relationship with his Mum and won a music scholarship to a cathedral school. Here he is befriended by the warm older boy Martin. There are some very evocative scenes of William spending time with Martin's family that are reminiscent of the warmth Harry feels with the Weasley family.

 A crucial solo provides an opportunity for William to show his unique talent, but will he take it?

The novel doesn't settle for easy answers. It's not a case of "instant healing" after the traumatic events but a slow realisation and "building bridges gradually. There are no trite answers, but healing is possible if it can be faced with an acceptance of pain and the courage to face up to yourself. 

The power of music is woven throughout the book, as is the true meaning of love and understanding.  There is real warmth to be found and wisdom too. It's a really sensitive and nuanced book which never moves in predictable ways.

A great "supporting cast" too in this thoughtful book. I also hope it will raise awareness about the Aberfan disaster. If there is one thing this book teaches us it's respect and love for the dead who William cares for so tenderly. He needs to offer the same to the living.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Wow ! What a moving and emotional read to end the year with. I really didn't know what to expect from the synopsis of A Terrible Kindness but the author has written one of the most original and hopeful novels I read during 2021. It begins when William , a newly qualified embalmer volunteers during the 1966 Aberfan disaster.  The novel moves backwards and forwards from the time following Aberfan to William's childhood as a chorister after the death of his father.  This is one of the most beautifully written novels I've read this year and although I found William's behaviour a little  frustrating at times, I was rooting  for him throughout. The cast of characters are beautifully drawn as is the period setting. It reminded me a little of Patrick Gale, an author whose writing I adore. Highly recommended. 
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this digital ARC.
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A strong opening to this novel sees 19-year-old William Lavery, freshly qualified as an embalmer, volunteer to help out in the immediate aftermath of the 1966 Aberfan disaster, when a primary school was buried in a colliery slagheap landslide. The experience of dealing with all the little broken bodies, and witnessing the unimaginable grief in the village, leaves him terrified to have children of his own and has psychological repercussions for many years.

The story flips back and forth in time, taking us back to the early death of William's father and his years as a chorister at King's College Cambridge, and forward to his estrangement from his mother over her attitude to his homosexual uncle and his partner, and the early years of his own marriage. Throughout, music plays an integral part - as a choral singer myself and aunt to a cathedral chorister nephew, this was an aspect of the novel I was very drawn to.

This book made for compulsive reading, but in the same sort of way as a bar of milk chocolate with a caramel centre makes for compulsive eating - it left nothing to the imagination and had little emotional complexity. I found William's character a bit of an immature, colourless damp squib and didn't really understand why everyone he encountered loved him so much - to me he came across as weak, self-centred, pig-headed and emotionally repressed for much of the book, only finally, maybe, starting to grow up at the very end. It is a good and engrossing story, but one which is told rather simplistically and in a way that leaves no room for the reader to fill in gaps. In particular, I found the readiness of multiple people whom William had shut out for years, to embrace him with a smile of ready unconditional forgiveness, rather unrealistic. It is a bit of a fairy tale really, and ultimately rather unsatisfying.
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Wow! This book has gone into my 'recommend and keep' folder on my Kindle. One of the best books I have read this year. 
As I began reading, my impression was not so high. I thought 'what a strange topic for a novel', embalming and a well known National disaster. However the book is so well written and the subject matters handled so sensitively. In fact there are many issues raised including bullying, mental health, childhood grief and parental love. This all makes it sound like a heavy read but really it isn't. There is also so much love and hope throughout the book and as I've already said, it is so well handled and beautifully posed. I loved it!
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Absolutely brilliant debut novel. Some very tricky subjects tackled with great empathy. A must read!
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This unusual and deeply moving novel begins with a devastating tragedy- the horrific colliery heap slide that buried a primary school and the surrounding houses in Aberfan, killing 144, mostly children. Young William, newly qualified as an undertaker, volunteers immediately to be part of the emergency team, embalming the children’s damaged bodies and preparing them to be identified and viewed by their heartbroken parents. This is the “terrible kindness,” treating the dead with care and respect, and making them look like themselves, making the unbearable a little more bearable for the bereaved. The experience continues to haunt William over the years, affecting his view of the future and reminding him of his earlier years as a choral student, and how this time of joy ended in regret, disappointment and estrangement from some of thise he loved the most. Somehow he must face his fears and become reconciled to the events of the past. This is a tender and thoughtful look at  friendship, family and forgiveness, about the power of music and the hope for redemption, about love and grief and moving forward. The important part played by undertakers in both life and death is very sensitively and engagingly illustrated, something not often seen in fiction. I found myself frustrated by William’s defensive actions but was rooting for him to find a way back to happiness, and found all the characters believable and likeable, even as they let jealousy, prejudice and stubbornness affect their relationships and blight their lives. An uplifting and memorable read.
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Wonderfully beautiful read.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for letting me access an advance copy of this book in exchange for my feedback.
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My thanks to #NetGally and #Faber&Faber publishing for the opportunity to read this advanced copy.
I absolutely loved it. Poignant, touching and humorous. I can remember Aberfan as a 10 year old, My teachers in tears, parents hugged tighter and watching the tea time news was a hushed affair no chatter about the day.
This book brought it all into context and the experience of others in that period, not just the disaster but what was socially both acceptable and un acceptable at the time and how far we have come
A page turner and I would highly recommend.
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“What if he’d chosen differently? What if all that had happened could have made him a bigger person? If each disaster had been a crossroads at which he could have taken a better path? It’s too painful to dwell on.”

A Terrible Kindness is the first novel by British author Jo Browning Wroe. In a swanky hotel ballroom in Nottingham, in October 1966, as nineteen-year-old William Lavery celebrates his graduation as the youngest embalmer in the country, an urgent call goes out for volunteers. A horrific mine collapse in the Welsh town of Aberfan has taken an awful toll, with many children amongst the dead. Embalmers are desperately needed.

William does not hesitate. A passionate kiss from the student nurse who has captured his heart sends him off on this mercy mission. But William has no idea what the long-ranging effects of this charitable act will be.

Although he comes from an undertaking family, that he would train as an embalmer was never a given. A gifted singer with a stunning voice, William knew his mother was fiercely determined that he should follow a musical career. Exactly what his father had wanted for him was never stated before his premature death when William was just eight.

“Since his father died two years ago, William has had to tighten up his insides and work hard to cheer his mother up” but at Cambridge, he made a real friend: “he is relieved that it seems all he needs to do to be liked by Martin is to be himself.”

How then, after four years as a lauded Cambridge chorister, did his career path change so radically? How could he be estranged from his beloved mother and not have sung a single note in five years?

Browning Wroe easily evokes both setting and era with gorgeous descriptive prose and popular culture references. Her characters, realistically flawed, are worth investing in as they develop and change over the years: a mother so mired in grief and jealousy she is blinded to freely offered love; a boy too consumed by humiliation and resentment to show loyalty; a young man so traumatised he cannot look ahead in hope. 

Supporting these are friends and family whose patience, acceptance, devotion and love may be unremarked upon but is ever-present. Eyes may well up and throats may clog with emotion in later scenes: only the hard of heard will fail to be moved and uplifted by this exceptional debut novel. 
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Faber & Faber.
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A very moving and heart breaking story.
William Lavery is attending a black tie event to celebrate his qualifying as an embalmer in 1966  when a telegram arrives telling them of the disaster in Aberfan Wales and asking for embalmers, so William decides to go and volunteer.
His experience affects the rest of his life and it reminds him of his difficult childhood and relationship with his mother. The story goes over different timelines and is is so moving it brings you to tears.

My husbands gran lived in the next village so he played on the hills  over Aberfan regularly and remembers the disaster well.
You always remember disasters but don`t know what goes on behind the scenes and can be horrendous for all involved.

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this book. I was deeply affected by the Crown Aberfan episode in 2019, couldn't sleep for days, and so was intrigued by A Terrible Kindness. The opening section was terrible and kind in equal measure, jagged with the edges of prior buried agony and I can understand how this trauma would impact the life of a young embalmer. The novel was beautifully written and I found myself angry with Gloria that William would not attempt to face his childhood trauma. Given the trials of those surrounding William, their forbearance in brokenness and kindness to one another and himself, the eventual unveiling of the childhood choir trauma somewhat cheapened the weight of pain lived by everyone else. The juxtaposition of Aberfan, miscarriage, loss of a husband/father and judgement over sexuality with the experience of voicelessness during a concert, cheapened the compounded trauma and made me strongly dislike William for the selfish ball he curled himself into over something that had no need to be carried and ripple so far. Can you tell I didn't like William?
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A Terrible Kindness is in contention for the best book I’ve read this year. In 1966 William, a newly qualified embalmer volunteers his services to the Aberfan community following the fatal landslide that buried a school and more. It’s an experience that, alongside his time as a young chorister in Cambridge, shapes his life for years to come. I loved the attention to detail - of training to be an embalmer, the music and references to Birmingham - the supporting characters in this book - William’s uncle Robert and his partner Howard in particular - but also the understanding of the importance and healing power of music and singing not only to William and Martin, but to the wider community. 
With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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What a stunning book. I was drawn to it because it starts at Aberfan, and which cast a long shadow for any child growing up in South Wales in the 1960s and 70s, and because it wasn’t screaming a genre at me. It intrigued me and I wanted to dive in.
William Lavery is a newly qualified embalmer who volunteers his skills to help in the immediate aftermath of Aberfan. It is a part of disaster recovery we rarely consider and the flavour of the book is quickly revealed as it focuses just a little on the mechanics and a great deal on the emotions. You learn just enough of the nuts and bolts to be drawn into William’s world but perhaps it isn’t for the over-squeamish.
William’s is not a world shaped only by the terrible nightmares and flashbacks born from his experiences working on those children’s bodies and we soon learn his past holds its own mysteries and traumas. Piece by piece they are cleverly revealed, building William into one of the most fascinating fictional characters I have come across in recent years, always on a knife edge between genuine happiness and self-destruction. 
It is a remarkable debut, full of clever intricacies and memorable characters, but never so over worked that William’s story is not centre stage. I hesitate to use the phrase ‘must read’, but I think losing yourself in this book would be time well spent.
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